“People are dying from curable diseases in South Central Los Angeles, such as obesity,” says Ron Finley, who wants to transform inner cities by growing gardens with organic produce. He started in his own neighborhood and an initiative was born as a result. He was on the TED 2013 stage this year and before he told us ‘how’ and said with a touch of anger in his voice, “I see wheelchairs bought and sold like used cars on my street.”
Raised in South Central Los Angeles, Ron started his innovative clothing company, The DROPDEAD Collexion, in his family garage. The DROPDEAD Collexion featured Ron’s unique design vision expressed through top quality workmanship and materials and soon, his line was a top seller with high-end retailers such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Ron Finley’s design ingenuity attracted the attention of many celebrities, and he was the go-to designer for several NBA and Hollywood stars.
He is transferring his passion for design and fashion into gardening. People in his neighborhood can’t get reliable healthcare or food that isn’t infused with pesticides. He got a warrant from the city for planting a food garden until he got 900 signatures so he could legally grow organic produce on his street without getting closed down.
“I grow my art,” says Finley. “Gardening is my graffiti.” He adds, “Like graffiti artists, I like to beautify so I use the soil like its a piece of cloth – the trees and flowers are my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what soil can do if you let it be your canvas. You would also be amazed at how beautiful a sunflower can be to someone in the inner city.”
Finley has seen the garden be a transformation. He asserts that in order to change “a community,” you need to transform your soil. He said, “gardening is one of the most therapeutic things you can do, especially in the inner city.”
It made him ashamed to see people within a block of his house who were hungry and sick. When people in his ‘hood’ said to him, “aren’t you afraid people are going to steal your food?” His response, “hell yeah, I WANT people to take my food, that’s why it’s there. With the food they steal, I want them to take back their health.”
If kids don’t understand where food comes from, they don’t know the impact it can have.
Los Angeles apparently leads the United States in vacant lots spanning across 26 square miles which is 20 Central Parks and 724,838,400 tomato plants.
His plan: to get kids off the street, you need to give them the joy of making their own food and make it sexy. He says, “I call it Gangster Garden so it becomes cool for street kids to grow food. We have to change the script so kids get excited about growing shit.”
When TED’s Chris Anderson asked him if he has put together a non-profit, he responded “no, we’re not a non-profit. We’re just a bunch of rad people who get together to make shit happen” and one of slides pops up that says, “Plant Some Shit.” He adds, “If you want to meet with me, don’t meet with me to have a meeting with me, show up at my garden and bring my shovels.”
Photo of green grass from dot.gov and image of Ron Finley from TED blog.